Junior guard Elijah Olaniyi in the opening game of the season against Yale. Olaniyi led his team in a game against Vermont with 28 points and 11 rebounds. EMMA HARRIS/THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team stepped into the Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington, Vermont having not beaten the Vermont Catamounts in nearly four years. The Catamounts were unanimously picked to win the America East in the preseason and possess the reigning America East Player of the Year in senior forward Anthony Lamb. All the stakes were high in an early conference matchup that had the intense feel of a tournament game. With the pressure turned on, Stony Brook (11-6, 2-0) closed out strong to upend Vermont (10-6, 0-1) on Jan. 8 by a score of 81-77 to make a loud statement against an America East rival.

“It feels good because I feel like we earned a little bit of respect,” junior guard Elijah Olaniyi said in a press release. “Before, nobody really thought we could do it. We came in here and showed we could win on their court. Hopefully we can take care of business when we see them later in the season.” 

After a back-and-forth slugfest that saw neither team go down without a fight, the Catamounts opened up a 6-point lead with over four minutes to play – their largest lead of the second half – as Lamb was fouled and sank both free throws to make it 72-66.

A response came immediately. Redshirt-junior guard Makale Foreman drained the 3-pointer from the top of the key, cutting the deficit back down to three. Despite the appearance of contact, no foul was called. The Catamounts increased their lead back up to five on the ensuing possession as junior guard Stef Smith made both foul shots after being fouled by sophomore guard Miles Latimer.

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With under three minutes to go, Vermont redshirt-senior guard Everett Duncan traveled in the back court, placing the ball right back into Stony Brook’s hands. Junior forward Anthony Ochefu took advantage of the opportunity with a hook shot in the post to bring the score to 74-71.

Then, Smith’s pass to Lamb was stolen by Latimer. Redshirt-junior forward Andrew Garcia was left wide open in the left corner and sunk the transition three to knot the game up at 74. Vermont turned the ball over on their third straight possession when sophomore forward Ryan Davis’ bounce pass ended up in the arms of Garcia. Olaniyi was fouled and hit both ends of the one-and-one to give Stony Brook the lead, 76-74.

While Vermont couldn’t convert on their next possession, the Catamounts were given the ball back with 47.8 seconds to go after Olaniyi threw the ball out of bounds. Latimer sent Smith to the line, who tied the game back up at 76. The Seawolves went back on top when Olaniyi split the defenders for the layup to go up 78-76.

The Catamounts couldn’t drain the clock for a final bucket, as a foul was drawn by Lamb with 19.2 seconds left, who only made one free throw. On the other end, Olaniyi missed one free throw after he came down with the rebound. Down 79-77, Vermont wound the timer down to five seconds as Lamb took a fadeaway jumper that rimmed out. The second-chance shot didn’t fall either, and Latimer corralled the rebound with 0.4 seconds remaining to secure the road upset for Stony Brook.

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Olaniyi led his team with 28 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. Foreman made five 3-pointers having scored 23 in total, while Garcia recorded his third double-double on the campaign with 14 points and 10 boards. The Seawolves shot 48% (13-for-27) from 3-point range.

“The three leading scorers had big ballgames and delivered in big time moments,” head coach Geno Ford said. “It’s coach-speak to a degree but it was a total team victory.”

Smith led Vermont with 28 points, while Lamb, who entered the game posting career-low shooting numbers including 23% from beyond the arc, finished with 23 and went 4-for-7 from downtown.

The ending would have been hard to predict after the Catamounts jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game. Foreman gave the Seawolves their first lead of the night when a triple put Stony Brook ahead 21-19. Vermont was able to enter the half up 43-38 after Lamb hit a buzzer-beater three while being double-teamed. After playing from behind for most of the second half, Olaniyi put the Seawolves on top for the first time in the frame with nine minutes remaining.

Stony Brook returns to Long Island to take on the New Hampshire Wildcats (8-7, 1-1) on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. It will be the first home conference game for the Seawolves, who currently own a 3-game winning streak in the series between the two schools. The Wildcats have two of the top three America East players in rebounds per game.

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